Considering Pretty Privilege in The Bluest Eye

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting to a friend and I asked her, “how do people know if they have pretty privilege?” My friend jokingly replied, “if you have to ask girl, you probably don’t.” I was scrolling through Twitter and I stumbled on a tweet that asked people to share when they realized they had pretty privilege. Before I continue, I should define what pretty privilege is. Pretty privilege means you have easier access to opportunities and are viewed more positively by people simply based on the fact that you are conventionally attractive, this judgement is usually based on age, weight, complexion, race etc.

I read The Bluest Eye several weeks ago, and I had a difficult time putting my thoughts together, so I delayed reviewing it. I’ve always said, Toni Morrison should be read in with a community (e.g., a class, book club) because her work is layered in ways I cannot fully understand alone. I feel this more deeply having read The Bluest Eye. Without a class, I dug deep into a library database to find literature on The Bluest Eye. Susmita Roye argues that “These girls’ blackness signifies their otherness and their ugliness.” I disagree, I think it would be inaccurate to say that Morrison is only describing the effects of blackness being considered synonymous with ugliness. Beauty is and has always been a spectrum. To view race as the only basis for being othered erases the nuance of what Toni Morrison is saying. It is not only that Pecola is black, but she is also a girl, she is dark-skinned, and overall considered unattractive, the narrator is far harsher, describing it as “ugliness”. Ugliness implies a kind of disgust. When juxtaposed with the experiences of the “high yellow dream child,” Maureen Peal, it displays this disgust, the disgust young black boys often feel towards conventionally unattractive black girls, the disgust young black girls feel towards themselves. Racism in all its forms functions not only to convince us that we are less than but to convince the oppressor that they are more than. I am coming to terms with the ways we do this to each other.

“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us--all who knew her--felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used--to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.”

How often have I used standards set by racist institutions to convince myself of my own superiority over others, who are similar but different from myself? We have to reckon with the part of ourselves that wants a seat at the table, if only to convince ourselves, “I am not like those other blacks.” Pecola’s obsession with having blue eyes becomes the focal point of her declining mental health. In the end, Pecola, suffering from schizophrenia, believes that her eyes are indeed blue. I wholeheartedly believe that racism can push people into depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, to see that validated in this novel is unbelievable, and heartbreaking.

To me, The Bluest Eye was written for black girls specifically. When Claudia says, “we tried to see her without looking at her, and never, never, went near. Not because she was absurd, or repulsive, or because we were frightened, but because we had failed her,” I hear Toni Morrison telling me to remember that I am and have always been my sister’s keeper, and they, mine.